When scientists finished sequencing the genomes of seven species of fruit fly last year, little did they know that they had also sequenced the genes of several bacteria that dwell undetected inside fruit fly embryos.
The genes of these bacteria, from a genus Wolbachia that infects many insects, have been sitting in the fruit fly gene database since then, unnoticed, according to Michael B. Eisen, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and a faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But Eisen, a geneticist who mines the fruit fly and other genomes for clues to how genes shape the organism, had an inkling they were there, and in a quick search of the genome database late last year, turned up a slew of bacterial genes.
Because hes a fruit fly geneticist and not an expert on bacteria, Eisen contacted bacterial geneticists at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Maryland, and together they pulled out genes from three species of Wolbachia - all of them new to science. "The sequencers who did the Drosophila species didnt even notice this because this is just a very small fraction of the total sequence and it was sort of tossed into the garbage," he said. "In every genome there is always stuff that doesnt make sense, and people werent looking for it. We thought this was interesting as much for the novelty of the way the bacterial genomes were sequenced than what we learned about the bacteria themselves."
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
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